Australian state to end quarantine for vaccinated travelers

A traveler points to his luggage as he arrives at a quarantine hotel in Sydney, Australia, on May 20, 2021. New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, has announced it will end hotel quarantine requirements for fully-vaccinated international travelers from Nov. 1, 2021 in a major relaxation in pandemic restrictions. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s most populous state New South Wales said on Friday it would end hotel quarantine for vaccinated international travelers as the government accelerates the wind back of pandemic restrictions.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet announced that vaccinated travelers who tested negative to COVID-19 before flying to Sydney would be spared 14 days in hotel quarantine from Nov. 1.

The major relaxation of the state’s pandemic restrictions was announced four days after Sydney came out of a 106-day lockdown,

“We can’t live here in a hermit kingdom. We’ve got to open up and this decision today is a big one, but it is the right one to get New South Wales connected globally,” Perrottet said.

“It’s going to be great for our tourism industry, it’s going to be great for tourist operators,” he added.

The federal government announced two weeks ago that vaccinated Australians would be free to travel overseas from November for the first since March last year. New South Wales would become the first state to open because it would be the first to reach the benchmark of 80% of the population aged 16 and older becoming fully vaccinated.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has yet to say when tourists will be welcomed back to Australia, but has ruled out this year.

After Australian permanent residents and citizens, skilled migrants and students would be given priority over international tourists, he said.

Limits on hotel rooms available for quarantine have been a major barrier for Australians who want to come home.

It is unclear whether returning Australians will be able to avoid hotel quarantine in other states by landing in Sydney then catching domestic flights across state lines.

The government of Victoria state, which has overtaken neighboring New South Wales as Australia’s COVID-19 hotspot, is keen to see details of the quarantine changes.

“We’ll have a good look at it. I’m sure other states will be facing exactly the same issue, but what New South Wales do is a matter for New South Wales,” Victoria Health Minister Martin Foley said.

Health professionals have accused Perrottet of putting economic priorities ahead of health since he replaced his predecessor Gladys Berejiklian last week.

But Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents the nation’s tourism export sector, welcomed the end of hotel quarantine.

“Australia’s tourism industry has borne the brunt of international border closures with many businesses suffering with no income since March 2020,” the council’s managing director Peter Shelley said in a statement.

“This announcement not only gives tourism businesses their income back, but also lets the world know they are welcome back in Australia,” he added.

Australia’s capital Canberra came out of lockdown on Friday with authorities reporting more than 99% of the population aged 12 and older having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.